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Culture Books


Four books offering Christian encouragement

Apologetics at the Cross: An Introduction for Christian Witness

Joshua D. Chatraw & Mark D. Allen

The Apostle Peter instructed Christians to defend the faith with gentleness, respect, a clear conscience, and good behavior. Therefore, Chatraw and Allen reject “intellectual knockout punches for Jesus.” Believers shouldn’t stick to any one method, they say, because the Bible and church history record many good ones. They also emphasize corporate witness: Unbelievers can’t deny a church community demonstrating gospel reconciliation. Thus, most of the book focuses on the apologist’s attitude, not on scripted FAQs: It’s a comprehensive overview of apologetics history, current debates, and a Biblical way forward.

Why People Stop Believing

Paul Chamberlain

Chamberlain is concerned about ex-Christians—people who walked away for various reasons: evil’s existence, textual variants in the Bible, and the “irrationality” of miracles. Why People Stop Believing provides concise, layperson-level responses to the challenges that former believers mount against the faith they once held dear. These critics know, and are prepared to demolish, Christians’ typical talking points. But Chamberlain, a veteran of in-person debates with former Christians, provides solid evidence that respectfully but meticulously refutes the alleged problems with the faith. This book supplies counterarguments to unbelief for readers who are confronted with a doubter or have doubts themselves.

The Wholeness Imperative: How Christ Unifies Our Desires, Identity and Impact in the World

Scott Redd

Scott Redd’s love for Christ shines through in The Wholeness Imperative. His book encourages Christians to strive for “whole” living through Christ. Each chapter lies somewhere on the spectrum between sermon and blog post. Redd, an Old Testament professor who majored in English in college, presents a Biblical text, then expounds and applies it with such literary artistry that readers will be caught up in the freshness of his sentences. But, mostly, Redd strikes me as a preacher who enjoys encouraging others with truths about his beloved Jesus.

Strength for the Weary

Derek W.H. Thomas

Strength for the Weary strengthens weary readers by leading them through the second half of Isaiah. “Isaiah’s prescription for [the] withering sickness of unbelief is a dose of God’s magnificent majesty, power, and glory,” writes Thomas. He also presents readers with copious quotes from Scripture and some carefully chosen words of exposition. God is the only ruler. God bears His people’s burdens. God’s Servant will take away sin. And God calls us His bride and promises us new heavens and a new earth. The 127-page volume supplies encouragement much larger than its size.

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Policy proposals

Does democracy murder itself?

John Adams once wrote, “Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself.” In Why Culture Matters Most (Oxford, 2018) David Rose shows what happens when trust within a democracy evaporates. He notes the constitutional mandate for the federal government to “promote the general welfare,” and argues well that “the only way to promote the general welfare is never to promote the welfare of any individual or group.” Now that special interest welfare abounds, deficits in both dollars and trust surround us.

Isabel Sawhill’s The Forgotten Americans: An Economic Agenda for a Divided Nation (Yale, 2018) tries to walk the tightrope connecting general welfare and special interests: Our divided Congress could spend on “more vocational education and adjustment assistance for workers adversely affected by new developments in technology and trade … a broad-based tax credit that bumps up wages for those who are currently working hard.” She also wants to encourage later retirement for most workers and “shift the emphasis from everyone going to college to a much stronger focus on investing in helping everyone train for and find work.”

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The folly of man

Three books touching on atheism 

Stanley Corngold’s Walter Kaufmann: Philosopher, Humanist, Heretic (Princeton, 2018) is a biography of the scholar best known for his attempt in 1950 to change the reputation of Friedrich Nietzsche from proto-Nazi to humanist existentialist. That’s tough sledding, because Nietzsche’s hero was the Übermensch, the superior person who possesses a will to power and does not let thoughts of mercy turn him aside from his struggle. Nietzsche’s villains were compassionate Christians who practiced charity toward the poor and the weak.

Kaufmann tried to turn Nietzsche’s emphasis on mastering others into a drive for self-mastery, much as some Muslims turn jihad from conquering others to conquering the self. Corngold in turn tries to make his subject seem more mellow than Kaufmann’s heated attacks on Christianity suggest. This double-marinating makes the biography unreliable, but its 744 pages illuminate academic prejudices.

The 170 tightly written pages of John Gray’s Seven Types of Atheism (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2018) are far more useful. Gray, himself an atheist, recognizes the weaknesses of “the new atheism” of Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris, which he calls a throwback to the 19th century that “contains little that is novel or interesting.” He then pulls apart “secular humanism, a hollowed-out version of the Christian belief in salvation in history,” and ends that chapter with a vivid look at Ayn Rand, who rejects Christianity’s concern for others.

The third folly Gray names is “the kind of atheism that makes a religion from science, a category that includes evolutionary humanism, Mesmerism, dialectical materialism and contemporary transhumanism,” and often has a racist element. (Gray points that out in the writings of David Hume, Immanuel Kant, and Voltaire.) But that’s not all: In the next chapter Gray critiques “modern political religions, from Jacobinism through communism and Nazism to contemporary evangelical liberalism,” and shows how Vladimir Lenin and Leon Trotsky had beliefs as murderous as Josef Stalin.

Gray’s fifth folly is “the atheism of God-haters such as the Marquis de Sade,” who wrote, “The idea of God is the sole wrong for which I cannot forgive mankind.” Gray also writes about William Empson, who thought the devil was really God and made Eve the heroine of Genesis. Gray finally says what kind of atheism he likes—that of academic atheists like George Santayana, Arthur Schopenhauer, Benedict de Spinoza, and Lev Shestov—but he seems despairing and concludes that “belief and unbelief are poses the mind adopts.”

Atheism in theory and practice always has bad results, sometimes leading to communism, fascism, or a general decadence, which David Weir assesses in Decadence: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford, 2018). His historical chapters on Rome, London, Paris, and Berlin describe societal debacles that fed off each other: In 1926 Berlin had 100,000 female and 35,000 male prostitutes, along with so many Communists that Berlin was “the reddest city in Europe besides Moscow.” Nazi propagandists styled their party the alternative to both decadence and leftist dictatorship.

That’s relevant to contemporary decadence because Weir ends his book with a look at a fictional French alliance of leftist and Islamist opponents of decadence, and their success in roping in a professor by promising him three wives, one of whom is an excellent cook. As Washington life more and more resembles that of ancient Rome, we have cause to wonder who’s next: Caligula, Nero, or Commodus, the son of Marcus Aurelius now made famous by the movie Gladiator.

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